Reporter’s note: On Friday afternoon, I received an anonymous letter from a Newport-Mesa Unified School District parent whose teen attended the infamous Nazi beer pong party in Costa Mesa earlier this month. I included an excerpt from it in an article I wrote about a solidarity rally with OC’s Jewish community that published that afternoon. But the original email sought the publication of the letter in full with the parent, who stayed anonymous to protect their children and family from an “awful barrage of hate,” writing, “I feel strongly that there are important elements of this story that need to be considered.”
Newport-Mesa Unified responded to the controversy by holding two community meetings last week as well as a highly publicized private meeting between Eva Schloss, Anne Frank’s stepsister and an Auschwitz death camp survivor, and some parents and students at Newport Harbor High School. To date, no report of any disciplinary action–detentions, suspensions, expulsions–by school administrators against the offending students has been made public. In fact, student leaders present at the Schloss event were said to have been active in creating a welcoming campus climate for their Nazi-saluting classmates to reintegrate back into.
With all that, the parent letter asks for all who read it to consider the contriteness of the kids while turning the tables on the outraged in expressing points of contention. The letter was sent to several journalists from different publications but the Weekly is first to publish it today when it’d have a higher readership as opposed to the graveyard that is Friday afternoon news.
The conversation will definitely continue, especially with a Newport-Mesa Unified school board meeting happening tomorrow following a weekend where Newport Harbor got vandalized with Nazi posters. A petition led by a former Newport-Mesa mother has a list of demands for the district in the wake of the controversy, including ethnic studies, an end to over-policing of students of color on campuses, and an active recruitment of a more diverse teaching staff reflective of the district’s community.
But before any school board meetings happen, here’s the anonymous parent letter in its entirety.
I want you to know more about these Newport Mesa teenagers…the ones who have been all over the
local and national news for making and photographing a Swastika made from solo cups. Some of them
raised their arms in a Nazi salute, many of them posted on social media, some of the responded (as
teenagers sadly do) in impulsive, ignorant and completely inappropriate ways. Some of the teens who
joined the discussion weren’t even present at the party, they just saw something that was getting a lot
of social media engagement and they jumped on the bandwagon.
I want you to know how much they have learned this past week. I also want you to understand that,
while most of them knew something about the Holocaust, they had no idea how much horror, pain and
fear was tied up with that symbol. They all understood the links between the symbol and Nazi Germany,
that much is obvious. But their teenage brains didn’t extrapolate that link and enable them to predict
the outrage, hurt and sadness that their actions would cause.
Most importantly, their actions came from ignorance, impulsiveness, and teenage bravado, not from
hate. While there is an issue of intolerance in America today – as noted by many of the extremely well-spoken students in the community meetings, it does not come from these children. The party was not a “Nazi party”. It was a group of teenagers getting together on a Saturday night. None of the people there were neo-Nazis, there was no Nazi paraphernalia, there was no intention to make a Swastika. It’s
disturbing that it happened, certainly, but it was not, in any way planned or premeditated.
We all know that the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that governs reasoning and decision making, is
still maturing well into adulthood. There’s a group mentality with teenagers – peer pressure, something
that makes them show off and forget who they are. This was certainly true of this group.
I know many of these children personally. One of them is my own. I know many of these families – and
no one is preaching hate. No one is fostering intolerance. No one is raising a racist, bigot or anti-Semite.
These children are being raised in loving, caring families by parents who are working hard to instill the
right values in their children.
And still…these children made a huge mistake. And some compounded that mistake by trying to
somehow justify their actions in their irrational, idiotic teenage manner. I and other parents have spent
many hours with them this week – while they learned more about the Jewish community (of which
some are members), were privileged enough to have an audience with Eva Schloss–Anne Frank’s sister
and Holocaust survivor, attended a Shabbat dinner, watched various Holocaust films, tour the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and hear from another amazing Holocaust survivor, and listened to a Holocaust scholar who walked them through the horrors of this horrific time in our collective history…with compassion, care, connectedness and understanding.
I want you to know that these children now understand why what they did was so very wrong. And they
have learned a life lesson of the tallest order. Many have not been eating or sleeping, such is the depth
of their regret. They are so sad for the hurt they have caused, and they desperately want to make
amends. But they must be allowed to. This means giving them the opportunity to move forward, with
the understanding that, while they made a mistake, this mistake does not have to define them.
In contrast to the compassionate response of the Jewish Community, so many people have responded
to what they perceive as hate with hate in return. How can that help anything?
These are children – with their whole lives ahead of them. Some are still receiving messages telling them to kill themselves, that their life isn’t worth living any more. The mob mentality on social media is
continuing to publicly shame them, to call for attacks on their homes, their families and their schools.
We should remember, as adults, that the world is different for our children than it was for us. The fact
that everyone has a camera with them always has meant that they can’t make mistakes (and I know, this was a big one) without huge repercussions. If people recognize the mistakes in their past and how they put them right, I think the tone will improve quickly.
Please don’t, for a moment, think that I am excusing their actions. I am not. I am simply asking for
understanding. Asking that you give them a second chance – and stop calling for their expulsion, that
their college offers be rescinded, that they should be attacked or kill themselves. They have taken
responsibility for their actions. They have shown up and listened. They have participated, and they will
continue to do so. They have asked questions and they are learning so much. This process is far from
over. Their education will continue. The Jewish community in Orange County has been wonderful in
their forgiveness and willingness to educate and help them see why their actions have caused such
outrage. So many others have been cruel and hateful; isn’t cruelty and hate what fueled the Holocaust?
I also want you to know that the children I know are not guilty of hatred. They are guilty of being
followers, of being young, ignorant, impulsive and extremely insensitive. And right now, they are
suffering. And they deserve to as part of the learning process. But it’s enough. Does this have to end
with another teen suicide? Because I’m so worried that this might happen. And what will we say then?
Will those adults who continue sharing the images with these teenage faces on them take responsibility as these children have done?
I want you to know that they are good kids. And they want so badly to make this right. Every single one
of them now knows why it’s so important to stamp out intolerance, to learn from the past and to take
positive actions to make sure history does not repeat itself. They will become leaders if we let them.
I ask you all, please, to forgive them and to ask others to stop attacking them before something else
awful happens. Thank you for reading and considering this message.
*Updated with sections added from a second draft of the letter sent to us after publication.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!